• Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint
Share this Page URL

Chapter 4. The iTunes Music Store

Chapter 4. The iTunes Music Store

In the latter days of the 20th century, you would have been hard-pressed to find a more contented group of executives than those who ruled the recording industry. Prices of new audio CDs remained high; the threat of digital copying via such devices as digital audio tape (DAT) recorders had largely been eliminated, thanks to efforts of the industry's legislative lobbyists; and young consumers couldn't seem to get their fill of boy bands and the overexposed navels of blonde chanteuses.

Enter the Internet and an online enterprise named Napster—a service that allowed people to “share” music files among themselves. Suddenly, if you had a broadband connection and the will to do so, you were able to help yourself to free music by the bucketful. And, by the hundreds of thousands, people did.

The recording industry eventually put an end to the “pirate” version of Napster through litigation (the Napster name has since been applied to a commercial music service), but the genie had fled the bottle. Napster was replaced by decentralized peer-to-peer file-sharing services that could not be shut down easily. Music piracy was rampant, and the music industry saw its profits erode quickly.

One might argue that the industry shared a portion of the blame for fostering an environment in which piracy could grow by charging a premium for CDs and promoting artists that many consumers found blandly homogeneous. Although the recording industry may not have understood the part that it played in its own difficulties, it certainly recognized that consumers found online distribution to be a workable—and desirable—means of bringing new music into their lives. The times they were a-changin', and if the recording industry intended to remain viable, it had to find a way to adapt to these changes.

The trick to doing this properly was to create a service that both protected the industry's assets—the music it produced at substantial cost—as well as allowed consumers a fair measure of freedom in how they put those assets to use. (You were unlikely to woo file-sharing enthusiasts from such unlimited—though illegal—sharing schemes as Limewire, KaZaA, and select Internet newsgroups by limiting consumers' listening options.) Consumers were accustomed to listening to music on multiple devices—computers, home stereos, portable music players, and automobile CD decks—and any service that limited their freedom to do so was unlikely to gain popular acceptance.

Not that some third parties haven't tried. Such services as the now-defunct pressplay charged you a monthly subscription fee to listen to music streamed over the Internet and download some of that music to your computer. One reason pressplay failed is because the music remained yours only as long as you continued to pay pressplay's subscription fee; as soon as you left the service, the music files were disabled. Also, if you wanted to download that music and retain a permanent copy, you had to pay an additional fee per song.

Apple looked at the available legal music services and examined the desires of both the recording industry and consumers—and it saw an opportunity to create a service that would blow the subscriptioncompanies out of the water. After months of hush-hush negotiations with the major recording companies, Apple unveiled what it considered to be the best alternative to file-sharing and music-subscription services—a service that gave consumers the freedom to download individual songs and albums permanently for a reasonable price, yet protected the interests of the music industry by encoding those songs in such a way that they couldn't be pirated rampantly.

So successful was this service that subscription outfits such as pressplay folded quickly; they couldn't justify such limited methods of distribution after Apple demonstrated that you could sell downloadable music without treating customers like criminals. Because success breeds imitation, it wasn't long before wannabes such as Napster, Musicmatch Downloads, and Microsoft's MSN Music Service appeared. Although these services offer some of the same features as Apple's online music service, they sport cumbersome interfaces; they don't offer audio books; they're incompatible with the Mac OS; and they offer files that, by default, can't be played on the world's most popular portable music player, the iPod.

In this chapter, I look at the original (and best) online music outlet: the iTunes Music Store.

  • Creative Edge
  • Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint